Timble is a tiny little village (or hamlet) about 6 miles from where I live – and it is famous for it’s witches (& the Timble Inn – an old friend but sadly now a B&B and restaurant). Not too many people know the story of the ‘Timble Witches’, so for those who are interested – here it is.
The story of the Timble Witches begins in the years leading up to 1621, which marked the publication of a most amazing book entitled ‘Daemonologia – A Discourse on Witchcraft, as it was acted out in Family of Mr. Edward Fairfax, at Fuystone, in the County of York in the year 1621’.
The Fairfaxes were a very distinguished and powerful family. Edwards two elder brothers, Thomas and Charles, were both soldiers who fought at Flanders and in the Continental wars. Edward Fairfax also had two sisters, Ursula and Christiana, married respectively to Sir Henry Bellasis and John Aske of Aughton.
It is generally believed that Edward came to live at Newhall in Washburndale, (a house long submerged beneath Swinsty Reservoir) some time around 1600. It seems that he was newly married, having taken as his wife a Miss Laycock of Copmanthorpe near York, and according to the parish records his daughter Elizabeth was baptised at Fewston in 1606.
Within a couple of years of moving to Newhall Edward began to experience ‘strange disorders’ which began to afflict his family, disorders which, in a manner most uncharacteristic of an ‘enlightened scholar’, he was to blame on the womenfolk of several local families, whom he accused of being witches. He produced ‘evidences’ of spells and black magic, and related how these ‘witches’ had bewitched his daughters Helen and Elizabeth and caused the death of his baby daughter Ann. All these events he was to describe in great detail in his ‘Daemonologia’.
Six women were accused of witchcraft by Edward Fairfax. Most of them were women under whose care and companionship Fairfax’s children had spent some time. Margaret Waite was the first accused along with her daughter who had ‘impudency and lewd behaviour’ as a sin. The third ‘witch’ was “Jennet Dibble, a very old widow, reputed a witch for many years; and constant report confirmeth that her mother, two aunts, two sisters, her husband and some of her children have all long been esteemed witches, for that it seemeth hereditary to her family.”
Next on the ‘list’ came Margaret Thorpe, another widow. She was seen to throw pictures of Fairfax’s children into water, and to cut the children’s names on loaves of bread, looking for ‘signs’ as she threw them into a pool! The fifth ‘witch’ was Elizabeth Fletcher (formerly Foster) who supposedly had such a “powerful hand over the wealthiest neighbours about her, that none of them refused to do anything she required.” She had been watching when Elizabeth Fairfax fell off a hay mow, and was blamed by Fairfax as a result. Last of all was a woman by the name of Elizabeth Dickenson, who, according to Fairfax, was accused of bewitching the daughter of his neighbour, Maud Jeffray.
The usual preposterous accusations were laid out, cohorting with devils, feline familiars, big black dogs, people struck down or dumb, wax effigies etc. Most sensational of all was Fairfax’s allegation that the witches had abducted his daughters, and had carried the three children to a Midsummer’s Eve bonfire on the moor top, so forcing them to take part in a pagan Beltane Feast. When, sometime later, his little daughter Ann died, this was the last straw for Fairfax, and, against the better judgment of the vicar of Fewston, Henry Graves, he had the ‘suspects’ arrested and bundled off to York Castle to await trial on charges of witchcraft.
The accused witches were twice brought before the court, and, to the credit of the York Justices and the dismay of Fairfax, were adjudged innocent and immediately acquitted!
On their return home, the Timble women held a feast in the glen where, according to Fairfax, whose account, it must be admitted, was ‘third hand’:- “their meat was roasted about midnight. At the upper end of the table sat their master viz., the devil “(and)” at the lower end Dibb’s wife, who provided for the feast, and was the cook.” This was on Thursday 10th April 1621. According to Fairfax, the feast continued through the night, right through to the dawn of Good Friday.
Here are some pictures of the area where the witches were supposed to have carried out their spells – all taken within a mile or two of Timble. The landscape has changed forever within the last 100 years, 4 big reservoirs now inhabit the places where some farms and houses once stood, but you can still get a sense of the timelessness of the landscape.
There are also a lot of eerie woods near the reservoirs, and I once took a shortcut through them one evening on my way home and I could very easily imagine Jennet Dibble and her brood casting spells…I got out of there very quick!